They are in their 80s and 90s now, these women of World War II and Korea, but they jumped to their feet when the color guard headed their way.
Walkers and wheelchairs be damned. These WACs (Army), WAVES (Navy) and Marines stood up for their country. Just like they did decades ago when the country needed them most.
Twenty-five or so of these veterans gathered Friday for a first-time Women of Honor Recognition Ceremony in the Hall of Heroes at Kansas City VA Medical Center.
It didn’t take long to see that spunk doesn’t go bad.
“Yeah, Navy!” Virginia Scholdberg, 92, of Gladstone, threw her head back and bellowed from her wheelchair when she first arrived and saw several young Navy women in the crowded room.
Sometime after Pearl Harbor, her older sister announced that she was joining up.
“She said, ‘I’m not gonna milk those cows,’ ” Scholdberg said loudly. “Well, I didn’t want to milk them either, so I joined up, too.”
From 1944 to 1946, she served as a yeoman at the naval yard in San Francisco.
Each of the veterans was given a corsage on arrival for Friday’s ceremony. They were happy and proud. They saw a friend in a stranger’s face. Later, as family members watched, the names were called and each veteran was recognized for her service with a certificate and pin.
“Every time you look at this pin, please remember that your service to your country is appreciated,” Terry C. Curry, the VA’s Women Veterans program manager, said to applause and cheers.
Helen Smith, 90, one of the first African-American women to enlist in the American military, was there. She served 21 years, through World War II and all the way up to Vietnam.
“I wish now I would have stayed longer,” she said Friday. “I would do it all again.”
Elsie Green served 22 years.
Elaine Crighton-Kirk said she joined for her dad. “He never had a boy,” she said. “He died before I joined, but I think he would have been proud of me. I hope so.”
Mary King was all over the South Pacific during World War II. A tech sergeant in the Women’s Army Corps, she kept track of ship movements. She was in the Philippines and New Guinea. In Australia, she met a soldier.
According to family lore, King and her fellow somehow got locked after hours inside a zoo in Brisbane.
The mention of that story will make her smile. She married that guy.
Four generations of her family attended Friday’s ceremony. Granddaughter Windy Immer told her children’s school about the occasion and asked if the kids could miss part of the day.
“Absolutely,” she was told, “they need to see this.”
Nine of the honorees were in their 90s; 10 in their 80s. The oldest: 99.
The young women in the color guard from the Navy Operational Support Center were impressed with the veterans.
“They paved the way for us,” said Heidi Maycroft, a Navy information technician .
And the veterans came with a story. Not of bombs and bullets. But more of leaving home during America’s greatest challenge.
Marilyn Bosley worked in an ammunition plant during the early years of the war but felt she needed to do more.
“Or maybe I was just young and wanted to get out of Parsons, Kan.,” she said.
So in 1943, at age 21, Bosley joined the Navy and got sent to boot camp in New York. Later, she was assigned as a nurse to a naval base in Jacksonville, Fla.
She saw Bob Hope. She remembers giving a shot to a marine back from Guadalcanal. She stuck him with the needle and he fainted — dropped to the floor.
“I heard later he’d seen some of the worst action over there,” Bosley said with a chuckle.
And one Saturday afternoon, she and some friends got passes to go to town. The streets were filled with service members, Navy and Army. Then loud horns sounded and everybody started running for the buses.
A submarine had been spotted off the coast.
“I don’t know if it was German or Japanese or even if there was a submarine,” Bosley said. “I just remember us all running and jumping on the buses to get back to base.”
“It was a terrible war, a sad time because we lost so many. But we were young and it was exciting, and I’ll never forget those times.”
Scholdberg, the one who joined up because she didn’t want to milk cows, put it this way, in a voice turned soft:
“Those were the best years of my life.”
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182